il Presepe romano

The Roman creche

The very first testimony of creche art in Rome is with carved wooden statues in 1289 by Arnolfo Di Cambio and kept in the crypt of the Cappella Sistina in the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. Later, the franciscan friar Juan Francesco Nuno's reports inform us, in 1581, about the use, by long time spread in Rome, of preparing creches in monasteries and places of cult and particularly in the Church of Aracoeli, where was particularly venerated the Bambinello statue, which is told as a work of art by a franciscan friar, who had carved it in an olive-tree trunk from Gethsemane, stolen on February 1st 1994 and never recovered.
In '600s the roman nobility starts to exhibit creches in their residences, sumptuous works of art in harmony with the baroque style of the time, ordered to famous artist like Bernini, it is worth mentioning the creche he realized for Prince Barberini. Even the XVIII century keeps alive the creche tradition in the patrician residences, but also in churches and monasteries, as attested by the large statues Nativity at San Lorenzo, as well as the Santa Maria in Trastevere and Santa Cecilia creches.
It is in the XIX century that the realization of creches is spread to the level of the common people, thanks to a low cost production with moulds of a numberless series of small statues in terracotta modelled by figurine craftsmen; among them the youth Bartolomeo Pinelli, who has been considered later a renowned Rome painter of his period. Nevertheless, are the most important families by wealth and class rank to realize, in competition with them, the most imposing creches, reconstruction of biblical landscape or roman country foreshortenings, characterized by tree-plantations of pines and olives, rustic buildings and ruins of ancient times, to show not only to their relatives and friends, but as well to their fellow citizens and tourists, drawn by leafy branches hanged over the main door as a signboard.
Still famous the Forti family creche, placed on top of the Anguillara's Tower, or the Buttarelli's family in Via de' Genovesi, reproducing the village of Greccio and the living creche desired by San Francesco, or the father Bonelli one in the Santi XII Apostoli church arcades, partially mechanical, with the reproduction of Lake Tiberiade, ploughed by boats, and the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
In the more recurrent roman creche, the rural landscape is the background to the cork cave, dominated by an angels tripudium flying over the clouds, arranged in nine concentric circles, which places the Nativity in the middle of the scene, a scene poor, both in the characters representation, shepherds with their herd and working peasants with their animals, and in the architectures, modest houses and country inns amid ruins of ancient arches and aqueducts, typical of the represented places.
Starting on the second half of the XX century, the environment changes and are proposed typical areas of the Rome disappeared, pulled down to make room to the urbanization of Rome capital, but still well remembered by the German artist E. Roessler Franz watercolours that picture the papal Rome and its unrepeatable atmosphere.